Footloose, Grand Opera House, Belfast, February 27th
By Conor O’Neill
Variety is the spice of life, tonight and the rest of the week the GOH hosts The Belfast Music & Drama Society’s Footloose, next week sees the haunting tragedy that is Macbeth grace the old lady’s boards.
But let’s focus on the action at hand. And what a lot of action there is too. I’ve never so much as saw a glimpse of the 1984 film, but having a music-mad elder sister had me well prepared. I knew nearly every song from the show, and so will you if you’re of a certain age. Or, are simply in love with musicals. And go on, admit it, we all (some secretly) do.
And what’s not to love? Great tunes, dancing, little innuendos allowing mums to bring kids to the theatre and the cauldron that is a sold-out show.
Footloose ploughs the furrow oft followed by many musicals: the story of the underdog. But don’t let that install ideas of flippancy or lack of depth of plot. Chicago boy, Ren (Sean O’Neill) and mother Ethel (Julie Bell) moves to a non-descript rural town named Bomont after her hubby did a runner, ‘Trying to find himself’. This is not only a geographical change, but also a trip back in time. Bomont is under the whip of Reverend Shaw Moore (Fergal White) and also under a dark cloud. A car wreck some five and a half years ago involving some drunken teenagers has the town bound by somewhat puritanical Christian rules.
Dancing Forbidden? Ren cannot fathom this madness. Fortunately to distract him is the beautiful Ariel Moore (Courtney Burns), who, as the name suggests and much to Ren’s chagrin just happens to be the Reverend’s daughter. Proving that the apple doesn’t necessarily fall close to the tree, Ariel is headstrong, as much out of nature as to simply annoy her father. With her red cowboy boots, tight jeans and less than modest tops, she’s as far a man of God’s daughter as one would expect.
To complete the main character list we, of course, need a comical twist. Enter Willard (Jordan Walsh), a country bumpkin, lean with conversation and with a secret to be revealed.
If I can speak for the 1040 crammed Grand Opera House, and going by the reception she got, Rusty (Niamh Long) stole the show. Her enthusiasm knows no bounds, and to think she’s only 18-years-of age. Tellingly, Long has been in theatre since the age of four, and she’s already starred in The West End. A brilliant future awaits this young starlet. Oh, and by-the-by, she and Willard hold a mutual crush on each other.
And as for the musicianship and choreography, West End and Broadway have much to fear. Under the leadership of musical director, and the man tinkling the ivories, is Wilson Shields. He and seven other musos sound like there’s a hundred more squeezed beneath the boards. What an amazing beautiful clatter the eight make.
And the tunes are here in buckets, after the title track, expect The Girl Gets Around, I Can’t Stand Still, Somebody’s Eyes and just for the 90% plus who made up the throng, there’s Holding Out For A Hero; complete with a fireman, sailor, policeman and soldier, who just happened to be bare-chested and with abs to make a Calvin Klein model blush.
Needless to say Hero got a huge, adoring, rapturous thunder of applause. Us of the XY chromosome variety just sat regretting every pizza and every pint.
You know it’s ladies’ night when at the interval you’ve free pick of the cubicles, urinals, soaps, taps and no queue for the hand drier. The queue for the women’s toilets, about a mile long.
Each and every main cast member gets a song or duet. The Moore’s is not a happy household. Wife, Vi (Ceara Gallagher), is burdened by Shaw’s own burden. There’s the father and daughter dilemma, Ren and abandonment issues, mother and son relationship. So many little interlinked subplots you’ll probably get lost on the main plot.
Front of the town council, Ren makes an impassioned plea to the authorities, who follow Moore’s instructions. Still no dancing. Will Bomont dance again?
And as for scenes, take your pick: the girls in the Burger Blast, the church sermons, big 40-plus in numbers of cast and chorus in perfect dancing union, screaming hatreds at passing trains, Cowboy Bob and his band, to perhaps my favourite, Willard’s dance lesson. The boy has a wisdom unquestioned in a round-about fashion; as for dancing, I’ve seen elephants do the Moon Walk better. But remember this is the true underdog story. Let’s Hear For The Boy sees Willard transform from Charlie Chaplin with a hiccupping limp to James Brown wired on coffee.
You’ll love this show. As a musical I can’t think of a better one in recent months.
Hats off to all cast and crew, director, Jordan Walsh, Wilson Shields, and the woman with perhaps the hardest job of the lot, choreographer, Ann Marie Morgan.
Dear readers, sorry to say the whole run is sold out. But fortune favours the brave. There are always cancellations: why not give the box office a bell and put yourself on the reserve list? The number is 02890 241919 or visit http://www.goh.co.uk
Footloose runs up to and including March 2ND.